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Football: Weis focuses on 2nd round of ‘playoffs’

Kate Gales | Wednesday, November 15, 2006

There isn’t a question of keeping the team motivated for Army, according to Irish head coach Charlie Weis.

“It’s the second round of the playoffs,” he said Tuesday. “If I can’t get guys up for a playoff game, I’m doing something wrong, and I should be judged accordingly.”

Despite Notre Dame’s trip to USC looming on Nov. 25, Weis is confident that his players are grounded and focused for their final game at Notre Dame Stadium this season.

The Irish beat Air Force 39-17 last week in what Weis called “the first round of playoffs.”

“I think the first round was important, too,” he said. “If we don’t play fairly well last week, then this week … it would not be as important. So now this week becomes more important to make the next week more important. So I think that all those things happen and certainly helped us and helped magnify the importance of the game.”

Army is 3-7, including a 43-7 blowout loss in its last game, at home against Air Force Nov. 3.

Weis hasn’t discounted the Black Knights despite their record, noting that the team is preparing to see two quarterbacks and two running backs Saturday. At the quarterback position, Carson Williams, a true freshman, and Dave Pevoto have started this season, although Pevoto is the more experienced with eight starts in 10 games. In the backfield, Wesley McMahanad leads the team in rushes, and Tony Moore, another true freshman who has seen increased playing time as the season progressed. Weis also expects most of the offensive line to rotate.

On defense, Weis points to the Black Knights’ low third-down conversion allowance.

“What they do is they do a really, really good job on defense on third down getting off the field,” he said. “Teams are converting only 37 percent of the time on third down.”

But Weis is confident that the team, particularly the seniors, will be focused on Saturday’s game.

“I don’t really believe in using just fake things for motivation,” he said, referring to the analogy of the playoffs. “I think that Senior Day alone and playing against Army should be enough to avoid any emotional letdown and looking past the next opponent.”

For Senior Day, all the players’ parents were invited to the Friday night pep rally.

“I like the way it was done before I even got here, that they bring [the parents] in on Friday night,” he said. “Because on game day, you know, it gets to be kind of a distraction. It’s already an emotional day as is, to realize this is it; this is the last home game of your career. But I like the fact that they get to be recognized on Friday night at the pep rally.”

In addition, all fourth and fifth-year seniors will stay at the team hotel the night before the game, even the ones who aren’t expected to see significant action Saturday.

“I think it’s something special for them to be a part of, because not everyone goes to the hotel the night before the game,” Weis said. “So we have extra hotel rooms to make sure they are all there.”

Although this could be a “trap game” for the Irish, Weis remains confident in the focus of his players.

“You’re going to play for the last time, ever, at your home stadium in front of your home fans, in front of your students that you’ve been buddies with for four years with your family and friends here,” he said. “How could you want to do anything but play your best?”

The fact that the game is against Army only makes it more challenging, he said.

“One thing you do know about any of the service academies … is you’re always going to get their best,” he said. “That’s what you’re going to get. You’re never going to get anything but their best.”

Notes:

u Weis said that tight end John Carlson, who was injured against Air Force last week, will definitely not play against Army or USC.

“He won’t play this week,” Weis said. “I could lie and say he’s day-to-day, and just try to throw a smoke screen out there, but he won’t play this week and he won’t play next week. And he’ll be at the hotel and he’ll travel with us the next week and he’ll be ready to go for the bowl game, whatever bowl game that would be.”

In 2006, the senior has accumulated 46 catches for 621 yards and four touchdowns.

Weis said Carlson will not need a medical procedure, just time to recover.

“Fortunately it wasn’t severe, but severe enough where if I play him in the USC game, I could do damage,” he said. “So that would not be a smart thing to do.”

u When asked, Weis called the Michigan-Ohio State game, which kicks off at 3:30 p.m. Saturday, “interesting.”

“I think turnovers will decide the game,” he said. “I think that will be the critical factor in the game. Whoever turns it over, I think that on Sunday morning, you look down and say, they turned it over this many times versus that many times, that team probably won the game.”

He declined to name which school he is cheering for, if any.

“I root for Notre Dame,” he said. “Whatever is best for Notre Dame, that’s what I’m rooting for. Tell me what that is and that’s what I’m rooting for.”

u After kicker Carl Gioia missed three extra points against Air Force, Weis said there will be “competition” for the kicker’s spot this week.

“I think that if a starter doesn’t stand up to starter performance, the starter’s not the starter anymore,” he said. “But Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday this week will determine that. There will be a competition going on.”

Gioia is 7-of-11 in field goals this season and 39-of-43 in PATs. His longest field goal is 40 yards.

u Quarterback Brady Quinn’s name has been mentioned in the Heisman race all season after he finished fourth last year. But Weis said he won’t try to pad Quinn’s stats at the expense of his safety.

“I would love for Brady Quinn to win the Heisman Trophy, but I’m not going to risk Brady Quinn for stats,” he said. “I would not do that.”